It's All About Business

DFW AIRPORT, TX — Get to know the Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport and the people who run it, and one gets the sense that this airport is something different. It’s vast acreage in a sea of suburbia midway between the two cities is one...

Fegan: When I became CEO in 1994 I had ten points, and one was we had to operate as a business. It was a transformation that took place from kind of this large landlord who was very passive to one that was very active, very engaged — driving the business and driving the revenue. Today we’re a $600 million enterprise; $200 million from the airlines and the other $400 million coming from non-airline sources.

We do run it like a business. We have a lot of success on a lot of different fronts, including some outlying things like our natural gas [drilling]. We have a fantastic deal on that — probably one of the best of its time. We got in just at the right time.

We entered into the hotel business. We have a facility improvement corporation board that oversees the operation of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, and that board consists of myself and four of my executives. We are the owner and responsible for its success. The Grand Hyatt has paid huge dividends.

The events of 9/11 certainly caused us to be much more focused, much more detailed; much more business-like. Prior to 9/11 everything we touched turned into gold; we couldn’t do things fast enough; revenues were going off the charts. Of course, after 9/11 the brakes came on for awhile.

The other thing you’ll find is we’ve created an environment that is probably different than most other airports in that we are very independent. We have a lot of our own policies — personnel issues; how we compensate. Most of the people that we have hired have come from the private sector. Very few have come from another airport. That private sector focus continues to drive our desire to run the airport like a business.

It’s a professional environment. The work here is fantastic, whether you’re a finance guy who goes to New York and borrows a billion dollars; or a construction guy who just finished up a billion dollar terminal; a land developer who just landed a deal with the Dallas Cowboys; or a concession person who has the responsibility for 250 stores out here. It is very much like what a Fortune 500 company would experience.

That kind of environment allows us to attract talent.

ab: And, you don’t get any calls from downtown saying that somebody from the public works department is coming to work at the airport.

Fegan: One of the agreement provisions is that neither the city council nor my board can direct me on any personnel decisions. It’s completely separate from that kind of influence, which is a nice place to be.

ab: DFW recently began its Terminal Renewal and Improvement Program (TRIP) to upgrade the original passenger terminals. Anything in particular of note on that program?

Fegan: As I look at the airport today and think of where it will be five years from now, we will have virtually all new terminals. We’ll have transit connections from both DART [Dallas Area Rapid Transit] and The T [Ft. Worth’s transit system]; we’ll have the north DFW connector finished; we’ll have the highway on the south end finished. We have seven runways today; we have plenty of capacity and are well-positioned for the future.

ab: As a user, one impression is that the new Skylink rail has transformed the DFW experience for passengers. True statement?

Fegan: Absolutely. The Skylink is probably the most transformational thing we’ve done. It has shrunk the airport dimension to the point that people now park in Terminal D because they know they have space there, and get on the train and get to Terminal A in five minutes. People use it to access concessions if they have time to kill.

Concessionaires use it to get from one store to another; TSA uses it to man the various stations at the airport; the airlines use it as well. It’s a transit system that probably rivals any mid-sized city in terms of the volume of people it carries every year –— 14 to 15 million people.

ab: You’ve had a big year with air service development, notably on the international front.

Fegan: This year was probably the best in our history. We added 22 new destinations — nine international cities. We added Qantas this summer, flying to Brisbane and Sydney. Emerates just announced they’ll be starting daily service on February 2 with a 777 to Dubai. American added Rio de Janiero and Barbados. American Eagle has added four cities in Mexico — we have 17 cities in Mexico we serve today.

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